Rankings Re-Centered

It doesn’t take long to detect the epicenter of power in the 2017 class. In our new rankings for rising juniors, a whopping — actually shocking — 10 of the top 25 are natural centers.

Scout’s overall No. 1 prospect, DeAndre Ayton, is just one of 10 centers who looms in All-America range. The Bahamas native not only faces a challenge from perimeter players such as Michael Porter and Troy Brown, he must fend off multiple contenders at his own position.

Ayton has lived up to billing thus far, most recently showcasing a very smooth and accurate jump shot to 17 feet that reminds of a young Lamarcus Aldridge. Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and San Diego State are just some of the schools that would be thrilled to bring him to campus for what’s highly likely to be a one-year collegiate stay.

Our No. 2 prospect is a center as well. Wendell Carter was a promising, yet unrefined player a year ago and has made substantial progress over the past year. Carter didn’t enter the spring widely perceived as a realistic contender for the top spot in the country, but now he’s just strongly in the mix and ahead of some players who have received far more publicity.

Carter is atypically strong for a young big man and thus could post the best numbers of any college freshman center in 2017-18. His recruitment includes strong overtures from Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Georgia, Vanderbilt, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Harvard and others.

To fans, Mohamed Bamba’s inclusion in the overall top five may have proved a surprise. Hardly known whatsoever entering last season, the Harlem native enjoyed a fantastic sophomore year and easily was one of the most tantalizing prospects at last week’s NBPA Top 100 Camp.

Bamba is very long — he recently measured with a 7’8” wingspan, comparable to that of Anthony Davis — and also impressively coordinated. Though he’s a full-time post player, just watching him dribble around the perimeter illustrates what sure hands he possesses. He has improved his offense as well and, as he adds strength to his wispy frame, should continue to win believers.

His offer list is massive and still expanding: Arizona, Indiana, Connecticut, Villanova, St. John’s, Kansas, Florida State, Maryland, Syracuse and others.

Injuries have derailed the travel season for our No. 4 center, Austin Wiley, who damaged his patellar tendon and underwent surgery. For that reason he has been out of sight, out of mind for many this spring and summer, but we certainly haven’t forgotten about him and he maintains top-10 status among his peers.

Wiley at his best brings not only size but skill, and after taking time to heal here’s hoping he’ll respond emphatically his junior season. The Alabama native carries strong family ties with Auburn and also lists Georgia, Michigan State and others. He’ll certainly leap back into he limelight upon his return to action.

Among the defensive specialists, few have impressed as much as Nick Richards. The 6-9 big man has been a shotblocker supreme for Expressions Elite, as he’s playing up an age division on the EYBL circuit. And he’s holding nothing back: Richards regularly faces talented, more experienced opponents, and despite that he has shone as an interior menace.

Richards definitely will need to raise his offensive game significantly in order to match his defense, but he does catch the ball cleanly inside and isn’t shy about creating contact. His list includes Syracuse, Seton Hall, Kentucky, Indiana, Kansas, Villanova, Virginia Commonwealth, St. John’s and others.

Jeremiah Tilmon has had to take a back seat in scoring to St. Louis Eagles teammate — and top three rising senior wing — Jayson Tatum, but Tilmon has managed to make the most of his opportunities playing on the EYBL circuit. He plays a big man’s game and is shooting 68 percent from the field this year for the Eagles, and over time he can add further balance and become more of an offensive focal point.

Not surprisingly for the Midwestern star, Missouri, Illinois and Kansas are heavily involved along with Kentucky, Saint Louis and others.

Blessed with a 7-5 wingspan and a penchant for blocking shots, Ikechukwu Obiagu has exploded as a blue-chip prospect thanks to his ability to dominate on the defensive end of the floor. He poses a formidable challenge to anyone attempting to shoot on the interior, as he recently demonstrated at the Elite 100.

Obiagu isn’t as far along offensive as Nick Richards, who currently slots a little more highly on our overall list, but he’s taller and longer and clearly a presence who leaves a lasting imprint anytime he laces them up. The Nigeria native reportedly has received offers from Kansas, Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Cincinnati, Memphis, Tennessee, Kansas State and others.

Although Zach Brown fell slightly from his prior top-10 ranking, he remains one of the country’s best centers and overall rising juniors. Brown hails from Miami and is playing up on the EYBL circuit this year, where he has performed unevenly but nevertheless has held his own against fellow elites. The southpaw runs the floor well and boasts a nice shooting touch from medium range, and at 7-1 he possesses excellent size even by NBA center standards.

Kentucky offered earlier this month and joined a crew of suitors that also includes Miami, UCLA, South Carolina, North Carolina and many others.

Brandon McCoy has proved that there’s sufficient room for more than one player in San Diego. While DeAndre Ayton resides there and obviously draws the most headlines, McCoy’s progress as a shotblocker and finisher are cause for great optimism. He proved he belonged at the NBPA Camp and has the kind of frame that will enable him to become a true, seven-foot power player.

He’s naturally the subject of intense Pac-12 pursuit and lists Arizona, UCLA and Oregon among his favorites along with Michigan State and Connecticut.

Rounding out our list of top 10 centers, Jalen Hill is yet another Southern Californian who has established himself as a top-shelf prospect. Like many of those on this list Hill presently is more comfortable on defense than offense, yet he has flashed more than enough overall potential to launch a recruitment that’s destined to continue growing.

Hill’s offers now include Arizona, Arizona State, California, Kansas State, New Mexico, New Mexico State, Oregon, SMU and UCLA, reflecting a heavy West Coast influence but also suggesting that he’ll have multiple options eastward if he so desires.

College coaches are very excited about the explosion of frontcourt talent in the rising junior class, and from our point of view evaluating all of these guys will become a sharper process due to the fact that they’ll regularly compete versus each other.

Whether 10 centers ultimately remain in the overall top 25 remains to be seen, of course, but obviously the Class of 2017 has generated a great deal of big man momentum heading into July.

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